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Counting down the Top 5 Giants under the most pressure this season: No. 3 Joe Judge

Ralph Vacchiano | Facebook | Twitter | Archive

The heat will be on the entire Giants franchise when they begin their quest to make the playoffs for only the second time since they won Super Bowl XLVI following the 2011 season, but a few of them will feel it a little more than the others. SNY made a list of the 5 Giants who’ll be under the most pressure this season.

No. 5 was tight end Evan Engram. No. 4 was defensive lineman Leonard Williams. 

The countdown continues with No. 3 … 
Head coach Joe Judge

When the Giants began searching for a new head coach, there was a pretty good class of candidates available. There were experienced NFL head coaches, including two who led teams to Super Bowls and one that even won one. There was a college coach who restored a program and turned it into a national title contender. And there were a slew of talented assistants and coordinators that everyone seemed to agree was ready for a head coaching job.

So yes, it was a shock when the Giants turned to a virtually unknown, 38-year-old special teams coach from the New England Patriots who had never been a head coach on any level at all.

That’s a heck of a risk for a franchise coming off three straight seasons of double-digit losses (and five such seasons in the last six). It’s an even bigger risk for a general manager who is firmly on the hot seat and wasn’t even sure he’d be asked to return this season. When the Giants hired Joe Judge, they hailed it as a fresh new direction and a sign that they were finally willing to think outside of their much-criticized box.

But they also put the future of their troubled franchise in the most inexperienced hands they could find.

He’s such an unknown that this is a fair question: Can Judge even coach? The Patriots’ special teams were obviously good under his guidance, and special teams coaches have made successful leaps to the head job before (see: John Harbaugh). But given how the Giants were burned recently by the hire of the inexperienced Ben McAdoo back in 2016, it’s hard to fathom why they didn’t make bigger runs at the likes of Ron Rivera, Mike McCarthy or Matt Rhule – proven commodities who at the very least wouldn’t have needed a generous learning curve.

And Judge is going to need an even bigger one than expected. As if his situation wasn’t precarious enough already, he still hasn’t stood in front of his team in person or coached them in any way on the field. The entire offseason was virtual, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. And things may get tougher for him as the NFL adjusts its protocols to play this season. For example, there’s a possibility the preseason will be shortened to two games or fewer. If that happens, that’s one less opportunity for Judge to get used to running an entire team from the field before the games start for real.

And yes, there is pressure for him to succeed instantly. For one, it’s doubtful Dave Gettleman could survive another losing season. And while any new GM would almost certainly be told they had to keep Judge as the head coach in the short term, there’s always the danger of a new GM wanting to bring in his own guy. Plus, the frustration of Giants co-owner John Mara has been obvious. If he has to endure another losing season, it’s possible he’ll give in to his instincts to blow up the entire franchise — and if that happens, no one will be safe.

So Judge has to get this right. That’s not a win-or-else order. It’s just the reality that the Giants need to see this season that he’s capable of handling the job and everything that comes with it. He has to be at ease directing his players. He has to earn their trust. He has to handle the media glare that comes with all that and he can’t appear to anyone that he’s overwhelmed.

So far, so good. And it hasn’t exactly been easy. He’s navigated the pandemic, the social unrest in the country, and the arrests of two of his players, all in his first five months on the job. His players seem to like him. Wary Giants fans have come around to the idea that maybe he’s the right guy after all.

But all of those good feelings will change very quickly if the early returns this season suggest that he’s not.

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